Lionsgate has sent a cease-and-desist letter to Harry Potter Alliance's Imagine Better Project over the charitable campaign, "Hunger is not a game." The studio believes that the group, which is supporting Oxfam’s GROW food sustainability project, is "piggybacking off of" the marketing for its latest box-office hit The Hunger Games.
The cease-and-desist letter, first reported at ThinkProgress, comes from Liat Cohen, Lionsgate’s senior vp business affairs and litigation. In the letter, Cohen approaches the studio's demand delicately, noting that the studio has formed a partnership with two large organizations fighting hunger, the U.N.’s World Food Program and Feeding America. "We understand and support your cause and mission," Cohen writes. "We are on the same side. We are looking for an amicable resolution."
Hours later, the studio issued a statement that emphasized its charitable efforts and clarified the reason why they made the request initially.
"Lionsgate's partnership with the United Nations' World Food Programme as well as Feeding America, both tied to the release of The Hunger Games, is helping to generate awareness of and funds for this global issue," the studio wrote. "Our requests to other fan based initiatives center more specifically around the use of copyrighted materials which have been committed to the WFP and Feeding America. We absolutely support and encourage the efforts of organizations battling world hunger and would encourage fans to join our efforts by visiting HungerGames.com."
A source familiar with the matter said that the studio would not pursue legal action against the group.
The studio took issue with the "distortion" of its film title and with the group's website. Cohen doesn't get into details about objectionable content on the site, but the group's online hub references Suzanne Collins by name and her Hunger Games series of books and evokes some of the franchise's themes, like "fighting the injustice of the Capitol and hunger in our own districts."
"This is causing damage to Lionsgate and our marketing efforts," writes Cohen in the cease-and-desist letter. The letter later adds, "We have the ability to take down your sites as a violation of our trademark and other intellectual property laws. We hope that will not be necessary as this is too serious a subject."
If Lionsgate were to file a lawsuit, it likely would be premised on the Lanham Act for causing confusion to its trademark and making false or misleading representations to suggest an affiliation.
Imagine Better appears to be a not-for-profit, but the group is soliciting money, albeit for farmers in other countries so they can grow their own cheaper and more efficient food. The group would be entitled to defend itself by arguing there is no deceiving the public into thinking there's a connection or disputing the likelihood of confusion.
Already, Lionsgate's demand to stop the campaign has caused some blowback. An organized effort to mount a petition to get Lionsgate to pull back its demand has been registered at Change.org with some 200 signatures.
Andrew Slack, executive director of the Harry Potter Alliance, doesn't sound like he's ready to give up.
"I would hope that Lionsgate would celebrate fans, not pick on them, for taking the message of their own movie seriously," he tells ThinkProgress. "It’s amazing that they’re working with two great partners already to fight hunger. But why get in the way of fans who are working with a third one?”